Imperial Restoration? Barack Obama and American Foreign Policy



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1 Carter was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his accumulated life-time efforts.

2 The United States and President Ronald Reagan did not “defeat” the Soviet Union, but without question ended up the winners. “The United States ‘won’ the Cold War in the sense that the other side gave up the fight.” George Herring’s account of these events is one of the most concise, and evenhanded around. See From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 860-916.

3 Along with several other Americans, only four Presidents of the United States have received the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt (1906) for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War; Woodrow Wilson (1919) for the Peace of Versailles; Jimmy Carter (2002) for his lifetime efforts; and Barack Obama (2009) for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.

4 Martin S. Indyk, Kenneth G. Lieberthal , and Michael O’Hanlon produced a pretty even-handed appraisal of Obama’s foreign policy which is really only limited by the fact that their book and a subsequent abbreviation of their findings in an article in Foreign Affairs only covered three of the four years of Obama’s first term. See Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2012), 276-286, and “Scoring Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Progressive Pragmatist Tries to Bend History,” Foreign Affairs 91: 3 (May/June 2012): 29-43.

5 “Yet beyond Iraq, his first-term accomplishments …are sparse.” See David E. Sanger, “Pursuing Ambitious Goals, but Strategy is More,” New York Times (January 20, 2013): 1A

6 Reference to the imperial temptation should include Robert W. Tucker and David C. Henderson and their examination of such a notion following the liberation of Kuwayt in 1991(the Second Gulf War), “…the imperial temptation to which the nation succumbed in the gulf war-and tow which it may fall victim again-involves not rule over others but the brief massive use of military power in which the emphasis is placed in punishment and not rehabilitation.” Use of the term in this paper includes a more general application. See Robert W. Tucker and David C. Henderson, The Imperial Temptation: The New World Order and America’s Purpose (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1992), 15. And reference to an imperial restoration should be contrasted with rather than compared with a reference to a restoration doctrine described by Richard N. Haas as a return to a more limited foreign policy in a nonpolar world, but not one of isolationism, a policy of limited engagement on a budget. See “The Restoration Doctrine,” The American Interest (January/February 2012).

7 It is speculated that it could amount to a figure between 1,300 and 1,000 weapons.

8 Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon, “Scoring Obama’s Foreign Policy,” 40.

9 See Indyk, Lieberthal, and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 13-14, and 194-196.

10 See Fareed Zakaria, “Can America Be Fixed? The New Crisis of Democracy,” Foreign Affairs 92: 1 (January/February 2013): 22-33.

11 Ironically, the Great Depression is often traced to the Smoot-Hawley Act (1930) which had the effect of reducing American imports and exports by more than with severe global implications.

12 Indyk, Lieberthal, and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 8-10.

13 Ibid., 10.

14 Ibid., 74-75.

15 Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, “Last Convoy of American Troops Leaves Iraq,” New York Times (December 18, 2012): 4A.

16See Michael R. Gordon, and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, The Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, From George W. Bush to Barack Obama (New York: Pantheon Books, 2011). Also see Gideon Rose, “Exiting the Iraq War: A Blow-by Blow Chronicle, New York Times (October 2, 2012): 6C.

17The war was no doubt a negative chapter in the history of the republic; worst of all it took needed resources of all kinds away from the campaign in Afghanistan and the war against al-Qa’ida and Usama ibn Laden.

18 Following the so-called battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December of 2001, Usama ibn Ladin, Mullah Muhammad Umar and other Taliban and al-Qa’ida virtually disappeared into the tribal frontiers along the Afghan-Pakistani border where the terrain is rugged and the people generally have embraced elements of radical, militant Islam. Eventually this did not deter Obama, at least in the search for Usama ibn Laden as is discussed below.

19 The notion that a number of imperial powers saw their ends or the beginning of their ends in Afghanistan has been a popular though exaggerated theme and became the focal point of Seth G. Jones’ book In the Graveyard of Empires (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2010).

20 See Peter L. Bergen, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda. New York and London: The Free Press, 2011), 309-334. For general information of the war in Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pakistani frontier also see Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (New York: Penguin Books, 2006); Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea (New York: Penguin Books, 2006); and Ahmed Rashid, Descent Into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).

21 Bergen, The Longest War, 330.

22 SITREP, British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS), January 9, 2013.

23 The exception was Ronald Reagan who initially seemed to want nothing to do with the Camp David initiatives and later, after the disaster of the U.S. Marine Corps. barracks in Beirut Lebanon and the Iran-Contra scandal kept issues in the Middle East at a distance. George H.W. Bush (along with James Baker) seized new opportunities opened by the defeat of Iraq and the liberation of Kuwayt (the Second Gulf War 1990-1991) to jump-start the peace process that led to success at Madrid and Oslo. William Jefferson Clinton made a major effort to replicate Carter’s Camp David success with a last ditch effort in 2000. And George W. Bush became the first president to officially embrace a two-state solution, but his pre-conditions effectively made any progress impossible.

24 Holbrooke was followed by Marc Grossman and then David Pearce.

25 See Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 112-140.

26 An initial apology to George Lucas, but it is the theme of this year’s conference.

27 Literally the time of the death of Usama ibn Laden. Apologies to Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow.

28 See Mark Bowden, The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012); and Peter L. Bergen, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012).

29 For dramatic impact see Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow, dir., Mark Boal, prod., 157 mins., Columbia Pictures, 2012, Sony Home Entertainment , 2013, DVD; for more accurate accounts see Bowden, The Finish; and Bergen Manhunt. A brief version of Mark Bowden’s account was presented as “The Hunt for ‘Geronimo’” in Vanity Fair 627 (November 2012): 144-150, and 190-194; ironically the article follows immediately after Juli Weiner’s piece on the latest James Bond epic, Skyfall, “Bond Ambition,” 138-143.

30 Later interrogation of women captured at the compound declared Usama ibn Ladin had been in Pakistan for seven to eight years.

31 May 26, 2009. Bowden, “The Hunt for ‘Geronimo,’” 146.

32Bowden, The Finish, 247-249.

33 In 1998 President Clinton ordered two cruise missile strikes against al-Qa’ida, one aimed at Usama ibn Ladin in Afghanistan which did considerable damage but missed the intended target.

34 The very memory of what had occurred in 1980 with the failed rescue attempt known as Operation Eagle Claw or Desert One was almost crippling and was especially acute with John Brennan who had been involved in that event. See Bergen, Man Hunt, 148 and 179.

35 The McRaven Option was named after Vice Admiral William McRaven, leader of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), who effectively designed and commanded the raid. Delivery, backup, and extraction were handled by the 160th Special Aviation Regiment (Airborne)-Night Stalkers.

36 As mentioned in footnote 22 (and listed in the Bibliography of this paper) there are a variety of available public accounts of the search for Usama ibn Laden and the operation that resulted in his death but the most reliable (but not without their limitations, and some factual errors, as they were rather hurried to go to publication) at this time remain Mark Bowden, “The Hunt for ‘Geronimo,’” and The Finish; and Peter L. Bergen, The Longest War, and Manhunt .

37Bowden, The Finish, 245.

3832 Indyk, Lieberthal, and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 71.

39 Bowden, The Finish, 237.

40 Ibid., 257.

41 Bergen, Manhunt, 244-245.

42 Apologies to George Lucas, again.

43Note that on January 9 that the order of issues for discussion on SITREP for British Forces radio were the visit of Hamid Karzai to the United States, the status of the war in Afghanistan, future troop levels in Afghanistan, the possibility that the American war in Afghanistan may be coming to an end, new faces in the Obama Administration, and then the increasing use of drones.

44 Even Jon Stewart, who seemed outraged Monday evening, appeared satisfied by Thursday night.

45 As February 2013 ended President Obama announced that a base for surveillance drones would be set up in Niger. See Eric Schmitt and Scott Sayare, “U.S. Troops at Drone Base in West Africa,” New York Times (February 23, 1013), 4A

46 40 Marc Bowden reported that in interviewing President Obama for his book The Finish comment was made about the use of drones, “There’s remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems.” A drone personality strike was certainly one of the options considered by President Obama in the operation to seize or kill Usama ibn Laden, but in the end he opted for a SEAL team insertion, “The bombing option was too loud and messy, too many innocents would be killed, and in the end you would not have any way to prove you had killed bin Laden.” See Bowden, The Finish, 152-153, and 196-198.

47 Noted authority on military policies in the United Kingdom, Christopher Lee, on SITREP (BFBS, January 9, 2013).

48 Brennan was also questioned about the use of waterboarding as an enhanced interrogation technique which he clearly denounced as’ reprehensible”.

49 See Bergen, The Longest War.

50 This comment proved to be the source of Stewart’s outrage on February 4, which he backed away from the next Thursday with the release of additional documents to Congress earlier that day.

51 Some reference might also be made to President Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 12333 (1976) which is still on the books and stated “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in assassination.” Ford was reacting to public disapproval of assassination as part of policies in Southeast Asia; The term terminate with extreme prejudice was utilized in official correspondence to refer to the process later popularized in the film Apocalypse Now(Redux), Francis Coppola dir. and prod. 153 mins, Paramount Pictures, 1979; Paramount, 2006, DVD. Of course at the time there was little concern over threats to the United States from terrorists, and it was generally seen as preventing an attempt to take out a head of state, i.e. President Diem of South Vietnam.

52 The Bush Administration was focused on anti-missile defense systems and possible attacks by a rogue state attacking the United States in a manner consistent with Cold War thinking as the very unconventional terrorist hijackings and attacks took place even with warnings from the previous administration.

53 See Bradley Cook, and G. Michael Stathis, “Democracy and Islam : Promises and Perils for the Arab Spring Protests,” The Journal of Global Responsibility 3: 2 (2012): 175-186.

54 American antipathy towards this regime during the Reagan presidency is well known; and it is understood that George W. Bush embraced Qaddafi as part of a broader attempt to support an end to certain arms programs in Libya that included certain weapons of mass destruction or possible research concerning them most especially nuclear research. This proved controversial especially with public opinion that still held Qaddafi responsible for many acts of terrorism.

55 There are some 140 tribes in Libya including the al-Warfalla, the largest tribe, the al- Qadadfa, Qaddafi’s tribe (one of Libya’ smaller tribes), and numerous tribes that have already begun to turn away from Qaddafi including the Beni Walid, the al-Zintan and the al-Zawiya. Initially, Qaddafi had tried to break down the traditional tribal system in Libya but in the end coopted them variously through oil money and economic connections with Europe.

56 There were reports of American black ops., Special Operations Forces, or covert operations, in support of rebels on the ground. On March 31, 2011 MSNBC reported that President Obama had already considered a Presidential Finding, a necessary first step to authorize covert operations. Also see Schmitt, “C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libyan Attack,” New York Times (November 2, 2012): 4A.

57 See Francis D. Wormuth and Edwin B. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War: The War Power of Congress in Law and History, 2nd ed. (Urbana and Chicago: The University of Illinois Press, 1989), 1-15and 107-109; and David Gray Adler, “The President’s War-Making Power” in William Lasser, ed. Perspectives on American Government: A Comprehensive Reader (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992), 428-436.

58 The War Powers Resolution, of course, has had its own problems. It was initially vetoed by Richard M. Nixon, a veto that was overridden in Congress, and has since been declared unconstitutional by every President since Nixon excepting Jimmy Carter, William Jefferson Clinton and Barack Obama, but it has yet to be implemented fully, therefore the question of constitutionality remains somewhat moot. In fact, it may prove to be an unconstitutional delegation of the war power by Congress, but is almost certainly not an unconstitutional limitation of presidential power as contended by Nixon and his legal advisor William H. Rehnquist. See Wormuth, “The Nixon Theory of the War Power: A Critique,” University of California Law Review 60 (1972): 623-624; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 301-307, 433-435, and 441.

59 Chapter XIV, “Of Prerogative” John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Thomas I. Cook, ed. (New York: Hafner Press, 1947), 203-207.

60 See Wormuth, “The Vietnam War: The President Versus the Constitution” in Richard Falk, ed., The Vietnam War and International Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 711-803, and “Presidential Wars: The Convenience of Precedent” in Dalmas H. Nelson and Richard L. Sklar, eds., Essays in Law and Politics (Port Washington and London: Kennikat Press, 1978), 118-126.

61The outcome did morph into the basis for the Clinton Doctrine which focused on the prevention and eradication of genocide. See Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 932-934.

62 John Milius insists that the statement is factually based. See The Wind and the Lion. John Milius, dir., and Herb Jaffe, prod. 119 min. MGM/United Artists, 1975; Warner Home Video, 2004, DVD.

63 Candidate Obama remarked to the Boston Globe in 2007 that “The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack…History has shown us time and again…that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the legislative branch.”

64 Reaction had already been underway, see Schmitt, “C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libyan Attack.”

65 Ibid.

66 Indyk, Lieberthal, and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 67.

67 Compare Ruchir Sharma, “Broken BRICs: Why the Rest Stopped Rising,” Foreign Affairs 91: 6 (November/December 2012): 2-7 with Fareed Zakaria’s earlier comments on the “rise of the rest” in The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2009).

68 Thanks to Henry Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon, and Jimmy Carter.

69 The fact that the United States also owes part of its national debt to China is probably overstated in importance but it still amounts to about $1.16 Trillion about the same that is owed Japan.

70 Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 10.

71 See Andrew J. Nathan, and Andrew Scobell, “How China Sees America: The Sum of Beijing’s Fears,” Foreign Affairs 91: 5 (September/October 2012): 32-47.

72 Ibid.

73 Cyber-hacking, and manipulation of currency (the yuan) and exchange rates are two of a number of issues that have served to distance Beijing and Washington. See Derek Scissors, and Arvind Subramanian, “The Great China Debate,” Foreign Affairs 91: 1 (January/February 2012): 173-177; and “Yuan for the Money,” The Economist (February 9, 2013); also see David E. Sangor, David Barboza and Nicole Perlroth, “China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against the U.S.,” New York Times (February 19, 2013): 1A.

74 See Aaron Friedberg, “Bucking Beijing: An Alternative U.S. China Policy,” Foreign Affairs 91: 5 (September/October 2012): 48-58. It is interesting how Foreign Affairs choose to present this piece juxtapositioned with the Nathan/Scobell piece mentioned above.

75 Ibid., 56.

76 See Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 24-69 ; also see Elisabeth Bumiller, “Words and Deeds Show Focus of the American Military on Asia,” New York Times (November 10, 2012): 1A.

77 Nathan and Scobell, “How China Sees America.”

78 Recent Books: The United States, Foreign Affairs 92: 2 (March/April 2013): 191.

79 It is interesting to note the comparatively large chapter, and very detailed discussion, devoted to China by Indyk, Lieberthal and O’Hanlon in Bending History which is quite telling regarding the importance of these relations.

80 Ibid., 38-39.

81 Proof of this was borne out in December 12, 2012 with a very provocative missile test that was successful, and then a third nuclear test on February 12, 2013 further exasperated the Obama Administration but was justified by Kim Jong Un as necessary to defend North Korea from “vile hostile acts,” a reaction perhaps to the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2087 calling for even more sanctions. The difference in this latest provocation is that it essentially humiliated Beijing which had warned Un not to test this device.

82 Presidential elections are set for June 14, 2013 and Ahmadinejad will have served his two terms allowed by the Iranian Constitution.

83 The term faqih, invented by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khumayni, is commonly translated as supreme leader and in effect that is essentially true since he combines religious, political and even legal authority with veto power in foreign affairs and almost the same power over legislation from the Majlis, Iran’s parliamentary body.

84 The result of such military audacity could well result in a fourth war in the Persian Gulf, but of course so could nuclear arms in the region. There have been three wars in the Persian Gulf since 1980. Each of them at some time has been referred to as The Gulf War: The First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988); The Second Gulf War between Iraq and a United States led United Nations Coalition (1990-1991); and The Third Gulf War between Iraq and a United States led coalition (2003- ). See G. Michael Stathis, “The Case for The Third Gulf War: Placing the 2003 Iraqi War in a Proper Political Context,” The Journal of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters” 81 (2004): 263-284.

85 And little more than a veiled reference to these issues in the recent State of the Union Address was not reassuring. See Adam Serwer, “Obama Pretty Much Gives Up Closing Gitmo,” Mother Jones (January 29, 2013); and Eli Lake, “The Unending Gitmo Nightmare,” The Daily Beast (February 13, 2013).

86 Note especially The Soviet Union and Its “Contradictions,and The United States: The Problem of Number One in Relative Decline in Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, 488-514, and 514-535.

87 Ibid., 514-515.

88 Sir Isaiah Berlin quoted in Walter LaFeber, America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1996, 8th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997), 347.

89 Herring, From Colony to Superpower, 913.

90 Huntington, “The U.S.-Decline or Renewal?”

91 Huntington, “The U.S.-Decline of Renewal?” 77.

92 “The image of renewal is far closer to the American truth than the image of decadence purveyed by the declinists.” Ibid., 76-77.

93 Ibid., 77.

94 Ibid., 90.

95 Ibid., 90-91.

96 Ibid., 92.

97 Ibid., 89

98 Ibid., 96.

99 Zakaria, “The Future of American Power,” 30.

100 Ibid., 31-39.

101 Ibid., 41.

102 Ibid., 43.

103 Quoted in Esquire 151: 2 (February 2009): 97.

104 Fergusson, Colossus, 298.

105 Paul Kennedy, “The Distant Horizon: What Can ‘Big History’ Tell Us About America’s Future?” Foreign Affairs 87: 3 (May/June 2008): 132-133.

106 Ibid.

107 Though rumors persist that Rice will eventually be appointed as the NSA, a post that does not require confirmation by the Senate. This move would add needed diversity and some different perspectives to aid the president in making foreign policy. It would also serve as political payback for the nasty treatment she received from members of the Senate before she eventually withdrew her name as a nominee for Secretary State. The unnecessary political wrangling evident in the confirmation hearings of Kerry, Hagel and Rice, largely regarding the Benghazi affair and the policy concerning the use of drones, were hardly productive, and seen as crass political nit picking by Republicans aimed to discredit a Democrat as president. Here especially certain members of Congress seem to have forgotten an old adage of American government: politics in making foreign policy ends at the shores of the sea.

108 Indyk, Lieberthal, and O’Hanlon, Bending History, 265.

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